Have you ever wanted to take a silent retreat? To get away from all of the to-do lists and noise to focus on yourself?

When I talk about finding everyday wellness in far-flung places and your own backyard – I often focus on big adventures and tales of transformation through exploration and boundary-pushing journeys. But sometimes, transformation happens quietly. I’d read about a silent retreat in Washington DC and decided that maybe that is exactly what I needed…it would be the perfect place to write, meditate and find inspiration. 

So what really happened during my 36 hours at the Hermitage – a hidden retreat on the grounds of the Franciscan Monastery?

Lessons learned during a silent retreat in Washington DC | LiveDoGrow

One of my favorite activities was to go for a walk around the grounds after dinner. The scenery makes you forget you are in the middle of Washington DC.

The short answer…

When you book a stay at the Hermitage, you have to sign a contract that says you are reserving “a reflection period.” The space is meant to be used solely for the purpose of solitary rest, reflection and retreat.

I did all those things.

I wrote. I meditated. I walked. I explored and wondered. I journaled. I read books. I felt proud. I felt content. I felt excited. I planned.

But the longer answer is a bit more complicated.

Lessons learned during a silent retreat in Washington DC

Hermitage at Franciscan Monastery

The Hermitage. My home for the 36-hour retreat.

The truth is that my silent retreat was not completely silent. I had my phone and ipad – and since the Hermitage is centrally located in Washington DC – they both had cellular service. So, yes – I checked the online photo album for my daughter’s sleep away camp each morning. I texted my husband at night time and my parents once a day. I spoke on the phone once with my ex-husband one evening to help him view those sleep away camp pictures.  I even checked email once each day (ok maybe twice) and lurked quietly on Facebook and Instagram for brief moments each day.

Did I disconnect entirely? No.

finding inspiration on silent retreat in Washington DC| LiveDoGrow


But I got as close as I could given my situation. And apart from those few moments… I looked forward to journaling. I looked forward to meditating. To sitting on the deck in the rocking chair to listen to the leaves rustle in the wind – even if I seemed to accumulate new mosquito bites each time I did. I walked around the 42 acres of grounds of the monastery and marveled at the Rosary Portico – amazed that in all of my years in Washington DC, I’d never explored the luscious grounds or inspiring architecture.


Hermitage silent retreat in Washington DC

One of my favorite spots: the porch overlooking the forest on the grounds. Tip: I stopped by the grocery store before heading to the Hermitage to stock up on fresh food to bring. If necessary, you can always leave the grounds to go pick up a meal.



Lessons learned at a silent retreat in Washington DC | LiveDoGrow

Is this not the most beautiful portico? (In case you are wondering: anyone can visit the Franciscan Monastery in Washington DC. I’d highly recommend it!)


Franciscan Monastery Washington DC | LiveDoGrow

36 hours is not enough time to fully decompress and embrace the zen. But for me, it was enough of a morsel to help me recommit to what I know is important and reflect on the direction that I want to take – personally and professionally.

Many people retreat to the Hermitage to find or deepen their connection to God. That was not my purpose and in fact, as a Jewish woman – you might think it strange that I chose a Franciscan monastery as the setting for my retreat. But here is the thing. In nature, on the rocking chair and even in the small Alverna Chapel that is designed to be used solely by Hermitage retreaters – I did deepen my spiritual connection.

Because for me, the symbols on the wall are not what matters. It is the beliefs and murmurings in my heart and in my soul that matter.

Just like it was fitting to draw the “Inspiration” soul coaching card during the first few inspirational moments of my retreat – the universe took over to deliver the “Voyage” card on my last morning.

The description…well… it fit.

“Voyage” by Denise Linn

“A journey is coming. Rather than staying in safe harbor, let your sails unfurl to the wind. The universe absolutely knows, cherishes and protects you as you ride through the currents of your life.”

“Your life is a spiritual voyage – and it isn’t always what it seems. There have been no wrong turns; every adventure and misadventure was a part of this course. You’re a sacred traveler on a pilgrimage to your Soul. There’s always a deeper meaning to your life’s journey than what appears on the surface. Even when you’re sailing through dark waters, and stormy seas, if you allow yourself to feel it, you’ll know that you’re always seen, loved, and cherished my the universe, the creator and your angels.”

Sometimes you don’t need plane or your passport to take a journey. And while I found a retreat space as a tool for my experience, technically you don’t even need that. For me, it was about listening…to the nature that surrounded me and to the feelings and emotions within me. It was about giving myself time and space. To read. To reflect. To write. What made my retreat successful was the intention that I brought to the moment. The space, the ambiance, the quiet…yes, all of those things help cultivate an atmosphere that fosters reflection and meditation. But at the end of the day, the key to any retreat is…you.

Many months later I’ve been thinking back to my time at the Hermitage..asking myself if I’ve continued the work that I started in that cabin.

In some respects, the answer would be no. I’ve not met all the goals I set out for myself. I’ve gone back to spending too much time on Facebook and Instagram. But I’ve also deepened my meditation and yoga practice. I’ve nurtured my focus on gratitude and sense of compassion. And more importantly, I believe that my there was a gentle shift within me that started on that porch. A transition that needed to be explored and allowed to bloom on its own time. Even though I’ve always believed in working with your strengths, I wasn’t always staying true to that philosophy. Instead of focusing on the goals and indicators of success that I thought were important – or that I thought I wanted – I’ve honed in on a direction that is better reflection of who am I am and what I want.

And now? Ups and downs, blue skies and storms – I have no doubt that I am in the midst of a grand voyage. And perhaps best of all? I cannot wait to see where it takes me.


Logistics for a retreat at The Hermitage:

  • The Hermitage and Franciscan Monastery are located in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington DC, near Catholic University.
  • There is parking for Hermitage guests and the cabin is fully equipped with bed linens, towels and cooking equipment in the kitchenette.
  • Guests are responsible for their own meals.
  • The nightly rate (as of July 2015) is $80.
  • Visitors that do not wish to book a reflective retreat, can still visit the Franciscan Monastery and gardens. Visit the website for more information on hours and tours.

Written by Elena Sonnino

Elena Sonnino

Chaser of Dreams. Life coach, wellness and travel writer, yogini, former teacher, adventure seeker, hiker, foodie …and oh right, cancer survivor. Elena writes about finding everyday wellness in far-flung lands and in her own backyard in the Washington D.C. suburbs.


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